Thursday, December 5, 2013

The SciAm Blog Drama

One may have heard about the recent drama at Scientific American.

It had very humble beginnings, but quickly ballooned into a complicated series of internet fights that ensnared dozens of people.

Here's a not-so quick rundown of selected episodes of the drama.

Episode 1: A blogger scorned!


  1. Danielle N. Lee has a blog at Scientific American called The Urban Scientist
    • The subtitle is: "A hip hop maven blogs on urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences""
  2. Lee received an email from a named Ofek, who at the time represented another science writing website
  3. Ofek asked Lee if Lee would like to write for their website
  4. Lee asked politely what the compensation would be
  5. Ofek responded politely that payment would only really be in visibility - there would be no money
  6. Lee politely declined the offer
  7. Ofek, referring to Lee's reasonable request for money, asked:
    • "Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?"
  8. Lee, angry with Ofek's insult, wrote a blog post about the exchange at SciAm.
  9. SciAm took the post down, citing issues with verifying the story
  10. The Twitterverse and blogopshere erupted, accusing SciAm of protecting a partner, etc.
    • The #StandingWithDNLee hashtag was born
  11. SciAm eventually put the post back up, blamed the delay on a long weekend.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the debacle at this juncture is that "science" bloggers see blog networks as quite personal spaces.

While this is the norm for the unknown on Tumblr and Blogger, it would be a departure from the way corporate media is managed. Even on a relatively laissez-faire social media network like Twitter, sounding off while wearing a corporate brand is generally a career ending faux pas.

The science blogging game seems to be one of low pay and high volume. The primary writers make most of their dollars doing something else - it seems Danielle Lee's day job is being a postdoc at Oklahoma State University. A science blogger's relationship with SciAm and the product they ultimately produce for SciAm is altogether different from the environment one with a title like "community engagement manager" would exist in at a corporation concerned with consumer goods and services.

The business value from SciAm blogging comes from pageviews. SciAm wants pageviews. SciAm wants lots of content. SciAm also wants to keep quality up, drama down, and compensation low. The bloggers and SciAm obviously face numerous competing goals. It seems assured that the editors will be involved in many more disputes of this nature in the future.

But back to the story...


Episode 2: Bora! Bora! Bora!

SciAm put Lee's post back up October 14th.

On October 15th, Ofek (predictably) was fired by his supervisors. On this day, many may have thought this would be the end of drama for SciAm.

But it turns out that on this day a blogger named Monica B decided after reading about the incident involving Lee that enough is enough and named Bora Zikovic, the Blogs Editor for SciAm, as the person described in an account of sexual harassment she wrote a year earlier.

The account describes a meeting at a cafe that was borne out of a professional relationship. She was a writer, he was a gatekeeper to a blog network. A brief mention of an article about a strip club led Bora into self-driven tangents about his sex life. This is creepy conversation to say the least. The discussion ended with a hug, as Bora is apparently a "hugging person".

Monica later sent Bora an email explaining how inappropriate his statements and actions were. After some days passed, Bora replied with an apology and assurances that it was an isolated incident during a "personal crisis".

According to the initial anonymous recounting of the interaction, the purpose behind the article was to verify to some extent that the incident was not the doings of a serial offender. After Bora was named, further accounts arrived of Bora behaving extremely badly surfaced.

Bora confirmed the validity of some of the stories:


As can be expected, Bora is no longer working for SciAm and hasn't said much since. Hopefully the man is seeking some much needed help.



Episode 3: Return of the Zvan

At this point, the science blogging crowd on Twitter is sharing all kinds of stories, some entirely terrifying and others rather mundane. Of course, when things like this happen the mundane stories are somehow purported to be some of the most important because they are such "ordinary" "microaggressions" within a culture of "everyday sexism". Every human interaction that is at all off-putting forms the basis of a Twitter crusade for "social justice".

The aforementioned drama meant that pandora's box of awareness-raising was open, and Atheism Plus had quietly been waiting all this time to drop a deuce for justice.

Enter the Zvan.

On October 18th, the same day Bora "resigned" from SciAm, the intrepid "FreeThoughtBlogger" Stephanie Zvan wrote a post titled "One More Thing".

The title suggests the drama is not over yet.

Zvan begins:

While we’re talking about sexual harassment in science communication, there’s one more thing I have to say. It’s prompted by Christie [redacted]’s favorite on this tweet of mine...
The tweet was Zvan extending sympathy to a person harassed by Bora. Christie ( last name redacted  to prevent unwanted Google Bombing ) showed her approval of this sentiment with a favorite.

Zvan then drops the bomb on Christie, at this point an apparent ally to the cause:
In the post, Christie talks about hearing rumors about Bora–rumors I and many others never heard. She talks about being harassed, though not by Bora. Those aren’t why I’m writing this, though. I’m writing this because Christie, while talking about all that, and being told she’s brave for talking about all that, doesn’t talk about the fact that she has also harassed people at ScienceOnline and outside of it.
It's a one-two punch - Zvan comes out of the gate and states that Christie's testimony of rumors might be bullshit, (Is this what PZ would call hyper-skepticism?) and then follows it up with an accusation that Christie herself is a harasser!

Zvan continues:

I’m also writing about this because, as the current discussion of harassment is going, it’s being framed as a matter of power and a matter of how men treat women. It is both those things, often. The issues of power make this harder to deal with. They mess with people’s careers. They make predation easier. But all of this, with power or without, whatever the genders involved, needs to stop being swept under the rug.
How convenient that Zvan had an example of a woman harassing men already in the barrel when this SciAm drama unravelled...

Zvan begins to document the Christie Crimes.

Incident #1:
Christie was kind of moving around the table behind all the people sitting and singing. I was sitting and singing. She came up from behind me and kissed me on the mouth. I shoved her away. She said, “Jerk,” and leaned over and kissed the woman next to me on the mouth. I won’t speak for the woman involved, but she shoved her off pretty quick too. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept singing and tried to have a good time.
Incident #2:

Christie had flirted–consensually to start with–with our common friend. When Christie made it clear that she took the flirtation seriously, our friend informed her that he did not. Christie did not take “No” for an answer. She continued to send frequent and inappropriate text messages.

Incident #3:

Then came ScienceOnline 2012. By this point, I and a small number of other people knew enough about what was happening to run interference between Christie and my friend. That seemed to be mostly successful, until she showed up at his hotel room one night “to talk”. Then she got into his bed, and he ended up sleeping in the armchair in the room because he didn’t want to leave her alone with his things and didn’t have phone numbers for people he knew mostly online. He sat there, paralyzed and disbelieving, like so many targets of harassment who can’t believe that these events can really be happening to them.

Luckily harassment policies are now keeping this monster in check: (Nothing else could have possibly have changed!)

This friend continues to see Christie at various conferences because they’re in the same field. The trend toward having harassment policies in place has mitigated Christie’s behavior somewhat. ScienceOnline had a policy in place by their 2013 meeting. That Christie’s behavior changed after the policy was adopted tells me she knows it was out of line. 

So the policy changed, and the perpetrator's behavior has reformed, yet Zvan feels the need to out the perpetrator anyways. Alright...

The grenade is thrown, and it quickly blows up in Zvan's face.

First, the post annoys the hell out of Greg Laden.

Laden comments:
This post is inappropriate unless it is clearly, in a sense, co-authored by the other parties which does not seem to be the case. And even then it may not be appropriate. 
But beyond that, this situation is qualitatively and quantitatively different than the Bora situation. And, as John points out, even the Bora situation is not being properly framed. The idea that this is a female example of the previously hashed out male example is wrong. These are simply not the same thing. 
I hope we are not seeing the beginning of an unending game of Unwanted Sexual Attention Olympics. 
The first person that tells me that I’m trying to silence anyone will likely get told to shut up by me, because that is not what I’m suggesting. I am suggesting that some thought and perspective be applied to the situation. I know that is highly unlikely, that prospect seems to have gone out the window.
Zvan:
In fact, one of the men involved is quoted with nothing changed that changes the meaning. The other was asked to vet my description before it was posted. It is, in a sense, co-authored.
No comparison to Bora is requested or desired. These things deserve to be heard and considered in their own right.
Laden:
Christie is a graduate student. Nobody works for her.
She’s probably got a half dozen things going on that are repressing her right now because that is what it is like to be a graduate student. You may have done her in with this blog post. You might have just taken away someone’s career because a bunch of people got drunk and you felt some need to be the person who talks about harassment. That is pretty much unforgivable. I can not for the life of me think of why you did this.
My point is that there IS a comparison to the Bora situation and the comparison shows that they are miles and miles apart, not even in the same ball park. Not the same league. Not the same game. You are not allowed to pretend that you have not linked Bora and that situation with Christie and her situation both by the nature and timing of this post.
It seems to me that Christie was utterly blind sided by this. This indicates that there was no consideration of a private conversation to establish a basis for the next step. You have single handedly decided that Christie needed to be punished, skipping right past all the other phases of inspection and consideration. There is no going back for her now because you decided what the end game will be for her and you unilaterally implemented it. There is nobody here “naming names” because the only name is you, who have nothing to do with this, and Christie, or what is left of her after you threw her under the bus.
Note: One doesn't have to be "the boss" to sexually harass someone and cause real harm, so the sob story about graduate studies is largely irrelevant. However Laden is on point when it comes to the toxicity of Zvan's public shaming.

Zvan:
You’re livid. The people involved other than Christie are thanking me for saying things they didn’t feel they could for a variety of reasons. There is still no good way to end up unwanted in someone’s bed or kissing people who don’t want that. There is no good way to opine on what the community should have known or done without accounting for the people you’ve injured.
Those people, and all the people who have known and have tried to “manage” the problem over the last two years, deserve a place in these considerations.
I’ll live with the disapprobation, yours and what comes from others. I’ve lived with plenty, frequently supported by you. Maybe this has warped my judgment. Maybe not. Right now, however, most of the people agreeing with you are either (1) ignoring that there is repeated behavior targeting multiple people or (2) people who think this world should be everyone looking out for themselves.
I’ll wait to be convinced.

Who is this Greg Laden that just tore Zvan to pieces?

Just a panelist of Zvan's Fight the Trolls panel at SkepchickCon in 2012!  Laden and Zvan go way back, firmly entrenched in the "social justice" scene. To see it hit the fan like this is quite the popcorn event.

But it gets better, for Zvan doesn't need to wait long to be "convinced".

It turns out that the man involved in the most serious "incident" continued sexting with his "harasser" after he slept in the hotel room armchair. He revealed this after Zvan's post went live, and added his choice of silence in an armchair was sourced from the meeting having the appearance of infidelity.

Zvan, either convinced by Laden's arguments or embarrassed by the facts coming out, did something FreeThoughtBloggers rarely do - apologize:

I made a mistake, and I owe Christie [redacted] and this community an apology. When I wrote this post, I mistook being part of a set of events as they unfolded as being the same thing as having a full enough view of those events to know that I could comment on them without getting her perspective. I should not have done that. As a result, I published an account of her actions that has not fully stood up in the face of further scrutiny. For that, I am truly sorry.

Zvan apologizes for not contacting Christie first. It would also be nice to apologize for the "unforgivable" (Laden's words) public shaming and reputation destruction, and the opportunism of the timing of these revelations. Outside of the bogus allegations of misconduct, Zvan first challenged Christie's credibility regarding the rumors about Bora - Zvan cannot even remember all the attempts at character assassination leveled at Christie.

Zvan very literally collects ad money from writing this drivel.

Atheism+, FreeThoughtBlogs, Skepchick and Zvan think they are the core of a progressive political movement within skepticism, atheism, and science.

It is true that these Atheism+ do-gooders are in the center of everything. For they are the ones in the middle of the room, standing proud, urinating in the punchbowl of progress. Drunk with power and aroused by gossip, only a little bit of second-hand information is necessary before turning on the excommunication machine.

Going further, there is an additional explanation.

What is a grumpy blogger from Minnesota doing when she seeks to destroy the reputation of a young, attractive, flirtatious, single, female grad student?

Slut-shaming.

It's a brutal cold war fought by women.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Skepticon Trigger Warning

Get a bunch of skeptics together and you can be assured of pointed debates.

But... weapons?

The Skepticon "security update" posted last Saturday (emphasis added):

My name is Dave Muscato; I am the Public Relations Director for American Atheists. I am at the Skepticon conference in Springfield, MO, although I am attending on my own “off-duty” this weekend and not in a working capacity for American Atheists.
Early Saturday morning, there was a security incident and I would like to clear up any misconceptions, explain where things stand, and tell you how Skepticon has resolved the situation.
About 4 AM on Saturday morning, another attendee of the conference made a graphic and direct verbal death threat to me while brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, which this person claimed was loaded. The incident occurred on E St Louis Street outside, away from conference property and neither in the conference hotel nor in the expo center. I was with a small group of people who were able to distract this person with conversation and diffuse things until we were able to return to the University Plaza hotel, where the person went to his room. I reported the incident immediately to hotel security and the Springfield police, and made statements on the record about what happened.
Skepticon organizers have been fully informed of all details of the incident, and all organizers and volunteers, as well as police and hotel security, have this person’s name and photograph. This person has agreed to leave the hotel and not return to Skepticon this year or in future years.
Skepticon organizers have been overwhelmingly supportive and competent. I was offered a security escort, which I appreciated, but felt was unnecessary and declined.
I still feel safe at Skepticon. I have been coming to Skepticon for four years now and intend to continue to donate and to return to Springfield for Skepticon 7.
I am not going to name the person involved in this incident at this time. Skepticon organizers and American Atheists have this person’s name and information. I will let them decide how to handle informing other event organizers about this situation.
What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.
I would prefer not to discuss this incident further. I am OK. I thank everyone for their concern. I am extremely impressed and flattered with the outpouring of support from Skepticon organizers, other attendees, and speakers, as well as the support from the atheist community online.
I am here the rest of today but if I miss you, I will see you next year for Skepticon 7!
Sincerely,
Dave

At 4:30 AM on November 16, Muscato had shared this on Facebook:

Hey universe, when I said it could be worse as far as the airline losing my luggage... that was not intended as an invitation for a death threat accompanied by a loaded 38.
I get a lot of hate mail and have lost count of death threats now, but this is the first time I have actually perceived my life to be in immediate danger from one.
Although it would not have helped in this particular case, I'm seriously considering a kevlar vest for future public talks.
Fellow activists, a reminder to be very careful about vetting whom you allow in your personal surroundings, and let me just say if I didn't want kids before, I sure as hell don't now.
This situation involved someone who I am lead to believe is normally pretty trustworthy who had simply had too much to drink. Obviously that's not an acceptable excuse for this, but I'm not upset at the person as much as that I don't want that person around me. I'm sure this is going to be going around the conference tomorrow but I don't feel it's necessary to name names and I'm not pressing charges. I may change my mind if I perceive this person to be an ongoing danger to me or anyone else at Skepticon. Hotel security and the Springfield police are fully aware and taking care of it, and I will be giving all the info I have to the conference organizers when they wake up, and I'll let them decide if there's further action they want to take, but I think it's under control now.
Now, to sleep for 90 minutes...

Wow!

This is a very messed up situation - pointing a gun at somebody is no laughing matter. Hopefully the person involved stays well away from Muscato and future skeptic events.

There is no need to question conference policy around this situation - it isn't a question of whether or not the suspect is removed from the conference, it's a question of whether or not the suspect spends the coming days in jail.

Given that, it's interesting how many of the themes that have come up in these events are reminiscent of Atheism+ drama in recent memory. Further, it undermines a lot of the branding the social justice warriors have set aside for Skepticon.

For the past recent months the selling point of Skepticon has been that it's not The Amazing Meeting (TAM).

Selling the show 

In the days before TAM, the usual suspects brought up the usual "harassment policy" nonsense. For the uninitiated, this may sound like appropriate levels of concern for a serious problem. However it's a topic critiqued not lobbed at conferences generally. It's actually a stupid feud.

It is a subject frequently revisited as:
  1. The Atheism+ crowd had a huge falling out with the TAM crowd (more on this later)
  2. A "good" harassment policy doesn't cost a free conference (Skepticon) any money
  3. It gives social justice warriors something to write about
Harassment policies aside, the desire to sell Skepticon is often much more transparent.

When TAM claimed that it was the cheapest conference, "FreeThoughtBlogs" was there to passively aggressively check their calculations

Shortly after, PZ Myers took the time to fawn about the speakers at Skepticon and troll JREF. Myers waged war against TAM thinking it would do Skepticon many favors. Myers is about as good at strategy as he is with fact checking

Safe and welcome

Muscato is quick to state:
"I still feel safe at Skepticon."
This sentence was loaded long before Muscato's assailant was. In fact it was already a t-shirt.

Recall Harriet Hall's TAM shirt read:
"I feel safe and welcome at TAM"
The shirt was in response to some prior drama that served to cast TAM as a terrifying place that is not a "safe space" for women.

Muscato is a smart fellow and realizes that perception of risk is kryptonite for conference attendance. Any empty conference room, be it at TAM or Skepticon, is not really in the best interest of his activism or his career as PR director for American Atheists.

The last thing Muscato wants to do reminisce about how conferences are not as safe as they used to be. Neither would he enjoy starting a debate about gun control. He wants people to show up to the conferences, enjoy themselves and support his organization. 

Muscato cannot afford to blow the weekend on Twitter drama. Drama does not pay his bills.


Stranger danger

To put the following in context, consider that TAM is typically hosted in July. In 2013, TAM was July 11-13 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Skepticon 6 was November 15 - 17.

Insert this tweet October 30, 2013:

And the subsequent agreement from a whole host of people, most notably Watson:

The message here is clear: You may be sexually assaulted at TAM!

Carrie Poppy left JREF earlier in the year, and then published an "expose" of sorts on PZ Myers' blog.

The evidence provided by Poppy supporting the idea that TAM is not a safe space for women:

  1. Karen Stollznow claimed to be assaulted by a coworker at CFI at TAM
  2. Carrie Poppy claims JREF leader DJ Grothe attempted to remove her from the speaker list at CFI's Women in Secularism conference
  3. JREF neglected to ban CFI employee from their speaker list

The issues with the evidence, in order:
  1. No evidence presented suggests that Stollznow informed TAM of the events in 2010 and 2012, seemingly having reported the issues to the man's employer, CFI, instead.
  2. Sounds like office politics. 
  3. Is it JREF's job to provide supplementary punishment over and above CFI's reprimand of their employee?
Of course, the people that organize TAM (JREF) could be gigantic douchebags. They could even be classified as misogynists. And they might be even be dismissive about reported sexual assaults.

Yet two things seem clear:
  1. It's difficult to say the freebie meetup in Springfield, Missouri that is Skepticon is safer
  2. The police are still paid to care
The Skepticon organizers could have heard Muscato's story in the early morning hours and gone straight back to bed and things would have pretty much ended the same way.

One imagines the conversation:

Muscato: "The man in room 623 just pointed a loaded pistol at me."
Organizer: "Is that right? I'm a volunteer - I'm getting the hell out of here."

Describing a particular event as "unsafe" is simply very tiresome to a population of people that have spent the last several decades hearing that the new street drug is going to kill everyone, the next rave is going to corrupt children, porn causes sexual abuse and that rap music causes gangsters.

A good old fashioned boycott of people one finds objectionable would be preferable to this ill-conceived analysis of what constitutes a "safe space" for a particular gender. 

How absolutely ridiculous would it look if Muscato was actually shot at the "safe" conference?

It is perhaps best to avoid playing on fear.


Does alcohol cause gunplay?

Muscato tries so hard to dodge the drama he goes as far as to try to save the reputation of his attacker:

This situation involved someone who I am lead to believe is normally pretty trustworthy who had simply had too much to drink

Of course, Muscato missed an Atheism+ social justice lesson wherein he would have learned that events cannot be blamed on consumption of alcohol.

Adults do have a moral obligation to regulate their own behavior, and understand their own tolerance of alcohol. "I was drunk" does not excuse pointing a gun at somebody.

Yet it is worth considering that we may be able to reduce gun violence at 4 AM by more wisely managing alcohol consumption in the early evening. Perhaps finding a happy balance between an absolutely boring conference and legions of drunken armed children running around all hours of the night.

It's not an insane idea.


Naming names and inclusiveness 

Missing from this event is the name of the perpetrator. Which is sort of funny, as perhaps the only name of a person who committed some impropriety at a skeptics conference in the past five years happens to be the only person that happened to point a gun at somebody.

Isn't that a little odd?

If we accept the Atheism+ instructions of intellectuals like Richard Carrier, one would be trying their best to name names and kick the "C.H.U.Ds" out.

Especially if the person to be excommunicated happens to be a gun wielding crazy person.

On the other hand, the word "crazy" happens to be "ableist" and Atheism+ is about inclusion, right? There is a certain batshit trigger-happy demographic that currently feels excluded by the suffocating privilege of all those people that do not feel the need to brandish a pistol during disputes.

It is in some way a win for social justice that this man felt Skepticon was a safe space for him to kick back with his Glock and drink a few highballs.

Truly it is a disturbing situation. The founder of the organization that Muscato works for was murdered in 1995 - working for the organization should not be a dangerous job. It is further worrying that the threats are coming from peers within the group.

The silver lining in all this is Skepticon managed to find the ordeal at least somewhat humorous:




Cheers, Dave!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Richard Dawkins Honeyshot

Richard Dawkins has found himself in a sticky situation.


After receiving what one can presume was quite a few ridiculous responses, Dawkins felt the need to clarify:

Of course, if Richard Dawkins was an unemployed teenager, this Twitter rant would be his right as a Twitter user to have very shallow sounding problems. People generally are not sharing their deepest problems of the day in 140 characters or less.

But Richard Dawkins is Richard Dawkins, and all the people that do not think he is really capable of having a bad day showed up to remind him that his problems do not matter.

Skepchick showed up to highlight a tweet made by a particular Amber:



This particular Amber is perhaps best known for labelling Dawkins racist and replying to critics with penises rendered as text.

The most coherent Skepchick-y response to "honeygate" was a post written by Heina, titled "Dawkins Has It Pretty Good, Honey: An [Ex-]Muslima’s Perspective".

Some relevant excerpts:

The first time I flew after 9-11, I was fourteen years old. My father was waved through but my mother and I, in our headscarves, were pulled aside. [...] I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized that they would be going through everything. Carefully hiding my underwear and maxipads under my pajamas had been for naught. These two men were thoughtlessly rooting through what I, as an adolescent girl, felt were my most private possessions.
[...]
Despite my deconversion from Islam, my caution when it comes to airports persists. My head might be bare and my name not “Muslim”-sounding, but I am often mistaken for an Arab, which is synonymous with “Muslim” to many. [...] I’ve viciously snapped at my partner for briefly mentioning the dubious merits of TSA security theater. I’ve stood as far away from other “Muslim”-looking or -seeming folks so as to avoid any perception of collusion or affiliation. When on the phone, I avoid the usual “salaam” greetings I otherwise use with family members. I carry both my passport and my driver’s license with me when I travel even just domestically, “just in case,” as I say.
Given all that, I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who is angry about being subjected to appropriate actions when he violated TSA regulations. I might even feel angry about it when it’s someone prone to sarcastically belittling others’ problems by comparing them to problems he personally believes are worse. Even worse is when it comes from someone who promotes the narrow view of Muslims and Islam that make my life difficult in the first place.I could go the cheap route and say that from this ex-Muslima’s point of view, my problems as a traveler are far worse than those of Dawkins and therefore he should shut up and never complain about his problems ever again. Instead, I will do him a far greater courtesy than he does to others and admit that his pain is not only real, but also indicative of a greater matter.
Almost everyone agrees that at least some of the TSA guidelines are irrational. It’s not a controversial thing to point out that they are. If only Dawkins had noticed and called out said issues in the full dozen years that they have existed, in the time span of over a decade in which they have adversely affected others. But I guess a community that doesn’t produce enough Nobel Prize winners for Richard Dawkins’s satisfaction shouldn’t expect men like him to care for the rights of its members. They’ll only notice when their sweets are taken away from them.

Heina displays some self-awareness here, as she knows that Skepchick in many ways is writing the "Dear Muslima" letter back. "Dear Muslima", for those unaware, is the response Dawkins wrote in response to the elevator incident.

Dawkins has in certain ways told Skepchick that their first world problems (such as being asked for coffee in an elevator) do not matter. Skepchick is merely returning the favor whenever they can.

But to list the absurdities clearly:

The never ending obsession with Richard Dawkins

Often Skepchick/FreeThoughtBlogs/Atheism Plus claim that everyone else is obsessed with Rebecca Watson's experiences in the elevator.

However, in this instance they took an incident regarding Richard Dawkins and the TSA and used the opportunity to present at least four references on their homepage to the previous elevatorgate drama.

This is in addition to the recent wish to dig up events from several years ago and accuse Dawkins of a whole host of fake social crimes.

It's plain to see that the truly obsessed are not the critics of Skepchick, but the Skepchicks themselves.

"Dawkins should have followed the rules"

Recall:
"Given all that, I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who is angry about being subjected to appropriate actions when he violated TSA regulations."
Yes, Dawkins should have followed the rules. He could have put honey in checked luggage or found a smaller container.

Who else could have followed some rules? The Skepchick table at DragonCon.

In fact, if Dawkins were to engage with the world in The Skepchick Way (patents pending), he would have written down the wrong TSA agent's name and published it on his blog.

Thankfully Dawkins is not that vindictive.

"Dawkins should have written about this earlier. Also, profiling!"

Heina writes:
"If only Dawkins had noticed and called out said issues in the full dozen years that they have existed, in the time span of over a decade in which they have adversely affected others."
First, the statement is misleading - TSA regulations have varied greatly over the past decade. Security procedures have varied airport to airport, and deployments of things like full body scanners are fairly recent events.

Second, it is really a wonder how a citizen of the United Kingdom can be expected to be a longtime critic of TSA security theatre.

One suspects Dawkins is somehow blamed for the TSA superstructure as the social justice warriors think it a massive project spearheaded by his demographic - old white male "Islamophobes". That Dawkins is annoyed by it is a moment for giggles, as the old white boy can finally now lie in the bed made by old white boys.

Dawkins probably also loses social justice points for being rather silent while a fellow "horseman", Sam Harris, wrote several defenses of profiling as a concept necessary to ensuring security.

Of course, this does not stop Skepchicks from building a profile of their opponents, as witnessed by doing a simple search for "neckbeard" or "fedora" on the relevant blogs and Twitter feeds.

An example:
Both Heina and Watson refer to Harris in their responses to Dawkins.

Heina writes:

"People like Sam Harris believe that I ought to be profiled based on those factors — and I am hyper-aware of this fact when I move through airports."

Rebecca Watson writes:
"To be fair, he’s never gone as far as the shockingly irrational Sam Harris, who repeatedly argues for the profiling of anyone who looks sort of Muslim."

It's quite rich to criticize profiling of muslims when we again consider how Skepchick does its threat assessments.

It's based on five two core pillars:

  • Their vicious "men's rights activist" critics are white, neckbearded, fedora wearing virgins
  • Black men in elevators are terrifying

Ultimately it's somehow rational for a woman to choose to not ride in an elevator with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but it's an irrational racist and "Islamophobic" travesty for an agency like the TSA to ask him a few more questions based on his attributes.

Everyone is an obsessed, irrational, racist rule-breaker.

But not the social justice warriors.

Never the social justice warriors.

They're sweet. Like honey.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Lily Allen Argument

In a lighthearted catch-up to the social justice crisis of the day, we have the fracas presented by this new Lily Allen video:


The usual suspects have the usual labels at hand.

According to the social justice warriors the video - which obviously aims to parody - has crossed a blurred line into outright racism!

It must be difficult for a slew of "feminist" "anti-racist" activists to see a friend unravel all their work with a video like this!

It's simply not fair.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Time to cut NPR?

The media landscape in the United States is not what it could be.

Often there is a lack of perspectives shared. People often share a desire for "balanced" reporting.

Then there is an issue of basic facts, often lost in the search for something approximating equal time for minds already made up on an issue.

Sometimes an organization known as NPR provides a good example of how reporting should be done. It is seen by many as being without bias, or at least less biased than major television networks.

However it seems that at least on some issues, NPR is just as prone to skewed, anxiety-filled reporting without facts.

The issue here: circumcision.

Round #1: Shoddy reporting


Here's how NPR has covered this story, through the past several years of original reporting.

In 2010, NPR's All Things Considered reports "Study: Circumcision Rates Falling Fast In U.S.".

Instead of "balance" the audio of the story audibly giggles mentioning the word "intactivists" and the single doctor interviewed is presents a completely one sided report:

"About 10 years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a policy statement that was fairly neutral on whether circumcisions should be recommended for newborns or not," says Diekema. "And that probably changed the way physicians were talking to their families."
[...]
"It's also worth pointing out that our population is becoming increasingly Hispanic," says Diekema, "And that's a population that has not traditionally circumcised their babies." 
[...]
"Their arguments are largely emotional," says Diekema. "Just the fact that they insist on referring to this as 'genital mutilation' tells you that they're refusing to recognize whether there may be any medical benefit to the procedure."
"There is a fairly substantial, important reduction in the risk of contracting many sexually transmitted infections," says Diekema. "In newborns, there is a decreased likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection, which for a newborn baby can be a very significant illness."

Missing facts: what is the expected incidence of UTI in newborn babies?

And, he says, "at least three well-done, randomized control trials in Africa show a substantial decrease in the transmission of HIV [due to circumcision]."

Missing challenge: can we then expect increased HIV infections among the Hispanic population in the United States?
Ultimately, in spite of arguments on both sides of the issue, Diekema says that male circumcision is a decision that families should make on their own. He says a doctor's role is to make sure the family is aware of the risks and benefits of the procedure.
But, he says, "the risks of circumcision are considerably lower in the newborn population than they are if that child is older."

More missing items:

  1. What are the risks in the first place?
  2. What risks increase with age?
  3. What is the other side (that was not interviewed)?
  4. Why was the 2005 AAP report "neutral" on the issue?

Fast forward NPR's coverage to August 27, 2012. Morning Edition reports "Pediatricians Decide Boys Are Better Off Circumcised Than Not":

The article is mostly a victory lap for AAP adopting a more pro-circumcision stance. The organization still does not strongly recommend the practice, but it has changed its message considerably.

The usual health benefits line is parroted out:

"The health benefits of male circumcision include a drop in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life by up to 90 percent," [Susan Blank] says.
But there's a much bigger reason to do it, Blank said. Circumcised males are far less likely to get infected with a long list of sexually transmitted diseases.
"It drops the risk of heterosexual HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. It drops the risk of human papillomavirus [HPV], herpes virus and other infectious genital ulcers," she says.
It also reduces the chances that men will spread HPV to their wives and girlfriends, protecting them from getting cervical cancer.
"We've reviewed the data and, you know, we have gone through them with a fine-tooth comb, and the data are pretty convincing," she says.

Missing facts: Gardasil. The HPV vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006, six years before NPR and the AAP feed us these lines that attempt to convince us that circumcision lowers HPV transmission rates and would then lower cervical cancer rates.

The vaccine applies to both sexes - boys and girls can receive the vaccine and then prevent spreading HPV.

It is interesting that NPR and AAP neglect to mention that HPV as we know it now might not exist by the time a baby born today reaches sexual maturity.

Perhaps the pro-circumcision crowd can better inform the public by doing more studies.

Circumcision could prevent transmission of:

  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Polio
  • Smallpox

The appropriate studies should be undertaken immediately so media outlets have something to publish tomorrow!

The article to some extent makes up for NPR's fumbling of the issue in 2010, by quoting anti-circumcision groups:

Chapin and other critics argue that the scientific evidence is questionable. For one thing, the studies about HIV have only been done in Africa, where AIDS is much more common among heterosexuals.
"They're cherry-picking their evidence," she says. "They act as though there's this huge body of literature. It's all the same couple of studies that have been regurgitated and reprogrammed. Over the past 150 years, all kinds of medical benefits have been proposed as resulting from cutting off the foreskin, and they have all been disproven."
Critics also question the safety of the procedure, saying too many boys are damaged for life by botched circumcisions.

But then quickly goes back to insane rhetoric:

"I think that all healthy newborn babies should be circumcised," says Edgar Schoen, a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. "I feel about newborn circumcision the way I do about immunization: It's a potent preventive health procedure that gives you a health advantage."

It's a mix of hilarious, sad and ironic that circumcision is being compared to the usefulness of vaccines in an article that so willfully ignored their existence a few paragraphs earlier.

The article presents another angle of absurdity when one realizes that it's authored by a one "Rob Stein" and quotes a one "Edgar Schoen" that happens to think everybody ought to be circumcised.

It seems that every day we can expect objective reporting on NPR.

  • Today, two people with Ashkenazi Jewish names tell us that circumcision is a cure-all
  • Tomorrow, two people with Māori names tell us that tattooing is great
  • The day after, our intrepid reporters Horace Smith & Dan Wesson explain the importance of the Second Amendment

The Stein article links to another NPR article, which is possibly even more ridiculous.


Round #2: HIV and HPV distortions


From the "Shots" health blog on August 21, 2012 comes a report - "Decline In Circumcisions Could Prove Costly".

The article says that many insurance providers, Medicaid included, are dumping coverage of routine infant cirumcision. Good for them.

But yet again, the same narrative about sexually transmitted infections comes up:

Yet three separate studies have found that circumcision reduces the risks of infection with HIV, leading the World Health Organization to recommend it in places where HIV risk runs high. Kenya, for one, is turning to circumcision of adult men to curb the spread of the virus there.

Circumcision also reduces the risk of infection with genital herpes virus and human papillomavirus. The practice can also reduce urinary tract infections in young boys. Later on, men's female sex partners are less likely to develop some infections if the guys are circumcised.

Missing facts: Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) is again not mentioned by NPR's coverage of this topic.

Onto the rest of the absurdities:

Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed how declines in circumcision would affect future health care costs, including what would happen if the rate fell to 10 percent, which is the average in Europe. The change — up or down — in HIV infections is the biggest factor.
So what's the tab? If the circumcision rate fell to 10 percent, the annual net increase in health care costs would be about a half-billion dollars a year. The findings appear in the latest issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Of course, everyone knows that if the United States became more like Europe in a number of ways, overall health costs would fall through the floor.

However ridiculous the premise is, let's continue with what the study says.

The Hopkins researchers make some several big bets:

Among males in a birth cohort of 4 million, cases of infant male UTIs increased by 26 876 (211.8%), HIV infections increased by 4843 (12.2%), HPV infections increased by 57 124 (29.1%), and HSV-2 infections increased by 124 767 (19.8%) under a 10% MC rate (Table 3). Among females, cases of BV increased by 538 865 (51.2%), trichomonas infections increased by 64 585 (51.2%), HR-HPV infections increased by 33 148 (18.3%), and LR-HPV infections increased by 25 837 (12.9%).

And they make the following comparisons:

Univariate sensitivity analysis indicated that cost savings associated with increased MC coverage would persist while the cost of HIV treatment is greater than $120 000 to $125 000 and while the cost of the MC procedure is less than $640 to $660.

An interesting take on Aaron Tobian's research shows up in the comments:

George Hill
Circumcising 54 percent of American newborn boys costs $1.25 billion annually. Circumcising 100 percent of newborn boys would cost $2.3 billion annually. How would that save up money?

Tobian is spewing out pro-circumcision nonsense, which is what he is paid to do.


Using this data:
A total of 3,953,590 births were registered in the United States in 2011, down 1 percent from 2010.
Let's say exactly half are born with a penis.

1,976,795 penis havers. Taking $650 from Tobian as ballpark, it would cost $1.3 billion a year to circumcise each and every one of these penises.

Maybe Hill's estimated cost is wrong, or perhaps Tobian's estimated cost is wrong. Let's use the $1.3 billion figure just to use some of the pro-circumcision base assumptions.

Pop quiz: What are the issues with this study saying decreasing circumcision rates will increase medical costs in the United States?

It is nearly entirely based on expenses related to three infections and ignores vaccines

The three infections that show up most in their cost model:
  • HIV
  • HPV
  • Trichomoniasis
Laughably, the study links to a study of the HPV vaccine seemingly only to establish costs for cervical cancer caused by HPV. No discussion is granted to the very likely reality that HPV vaccine will greatly reduce any effects routine male circumcision will have on cervical cancer rates.

Why these three infections? Because they're the ones they could find some study showing some relationship between infection rates and circumcision.

Interestingly enough, the linked study that investigated costs of Trichomoniasis put the cost at $101 dollars per episode. Of course, there might be related costs (complications regarding births, etc) however this is how we've also itemized the cost of circumcision - about $650 per cut.

The last dragon in the room is HIV. It's ridiculously expensive to treat. The central claim of this study is essentially that HIV infection rates in the United States go up as circumcision rates go down. In the next paragraphs we'll see why that is questionable.


It does not estimate the savings (or expense) of the first drop.

The study realizes that circumcision rates have dropped from 79% to around 50% in the United States. It reads:
During the past 20 years, MC rates have declined from 79% to 55%, alongside reduced insurance coverage.
It does not get into what this may have already cost the United States. Of course, the time span does not allow one to watch the trend line for correlations.

Yet it is conceivable that these researchers could follow infection rates in the US and correlate them with circumcision rates through the past decades.

The researchers could specifically zero in on HIV, and tell us how large the infected population in the United States would have been had circumcision rates been even higher.

But that sounds like work.

It does not estimate the savings (or expense) of a 100% circumcision rate.

The Tobian paper on the web only itemizes expenditures at particular increments from 79% to 0%.

There is no reason why Tobian could not present us a chart that would show parents what would happen if we put the $1.3 billion a year down (as we estimated earlier) to circumcise all newborns.

Could it be these datapoints are hidden because an honest cost model would show diminishing returns?

While we have data to suggest that it is wrong, if we can assume Tobian's model of infectious disease plays out just as how he expects, the paper would then be telling Europe to raise their circumcision rate. Nothing in the paper suggests that the United States has anything much to gain from moving the sky-high circumcision rates in the US even higher.

It mangles up health data across three continents.

The heart of the paper takes a circumcision rate from Europe, an HIV study in Africa, and then attempts to inform North American health policy.

No effort is made to establish the relationship of circumcision and infection rates broadly within similar populations.

The reality is United States has high infection rates and high circumcision rates. Europe has lower circumcision rates and lower infection rates. How is this possible?

A handful of studies were done in Uganda that made a connection between HIV transmission and circumcision. In this context, the studies were done with a small sample and early results transformed into fiery crisis management.

Somehow, the numbers acquired in Africa can be projected upon populations in Europe and America by filling in a few cells in a spreadsheet and calling it close enough.

It is authored with preconceived notions about the seriousness of the procedure.

From the NPR article:

Critics of circumcision dispute the benefits and say it can lead to sexual problems. "There's no hard evidence circumcision is causing problems with sexual function or satisfaction," Tobian says.

If this were true, one could circumcise an adult male this very moment and have him report no ill effects on his sex life whatsoever.

Obviously Tobian speaks to routine infant circumcision in a dismissive manner, as the mentality that underlines his philosophy is "what they don't know won't hurt them".

The mind is able to compensate for a great many things - it might be possible to take a scalpel to many parts of the body and still find the capacity to report a satisfying sex life. 

However this does not mean that circumcision has no negative effects, and the "hard evidence" for this is the millions of males that do not elect to have the procedure in adulthood. 

Why is that? Can we survey these uncircumcised people and publish a study, so the smart people at John Hopkins can cite it?


Round #3: More health care cost hysterics

NPR continues its weird circumcision reporting in its coverage of the "health care cost" melodrama. Reporting first in All Things Considered "Doctors Stop Circumcisions After Finding Out What They Cost" and then copied again on hits Shots blog, "An Alaska-Sized Price Difference For Circumcisions".

The reporting is similar to any progressive-left media brouhaha about health care costs that one has read elsewhere.

The difference here is that the core sob story comes from the expense of a cosmetic procedure - circumcision.

NPR's Shots blog explains:

Two groups of pediatricians are taking a stand in Anchorage, Alaska, after learning that Alaska Regional Hospital is charging $2,110 for a circumcision — almost 10 times more than the $235 that Providence Hospital, the city's other major health facility, charges. Those prices are on top of a doctor's bill.
Ryan now performs the procedure in his office for $700, the same as he charged in the hospital.
[...]
"Health care dollars are limited, and we like to see them spent in ways that really provide good health care for people and necessary health care for people," Ryan says. "And when the health care dollar is being milked off by charges ... those are dollars that can't be used for more essential things."
Yet, even doctors can have difficulty finding out what hospital care costs, says Dr. Jack Percelay, a New Jersey pediatrician who also chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on hospital care. Doctors are speaking up when they think a hospital is charging too much, he says, although most talk to hospital administrators behind closed doors.
"Oh, I'm sure there are many private discussions in terms of setting what seems to be reasonable fees," Percelay adds. "I have not heard of people boycotting services at one hospital based on charges previously."
Ryan says the incident has convinced him he needs to at least try to be better informed on hospital prices for all kinds of procedures. "Neither hospital is out there trying to put that information right in front of us," he says. "And sometimes it's hard information to get if you ask."


Note that the "cheap" version of the procedure in this story is still $40 more than Tobian's highest estimate. Perhaps an anomaly because it is Alaska, but interesting nonetheless.

Back to the story at hand - this is how NPR covers the story:

"Good ol' Dr Ryan. He's keeping the profiteering hospitals honest!"

However the story closer to reality:

"Parents still stupidly wasting money on costly elective procedures."

Dr Ryan is not doing charity or saving the rainforest here. He's pocketing $700 and performing an medically unnecessary procedure. Ryan himself describes the procedure as not "essential".

The bit veers into the absurd when it's the hospital that is the bogeyman for taking everywhere from $235 to $2110 for what amounts to a facilities fee.

Any way you slice it, (ouch) parents in Alaska are wasting about $935 on the total cost of an in-hospital circumcision performed by an MD. On a good day.

The idea that they might be taken to the cleaners for another thousand dollars merely changes the story from crazy to absolutely preposterous. 


The story of circumcision.

It has everything:
  • Bad superstitions
  • Shoddy reporting
  • Shaky science
  • Terrible economics
What is it about the circumcision issue that makes everyone lose their minds?

Why do people dilute medical science by trying to justify the procedure in a post-hoc manner?

Let us be honest about circumcision.

It is done primarily for cosmetic or religious reasons.

The relentless idea that we might want to keep cutting in order to support some secondary health indicators smells of a desperate need to always frame one's own choices in terms of the greater good or some bizarre objective superiority. 

Perhaps questionable conclusions regarding sexually transmitted infections run far in the pro-circumcision crowd as it gives certain groups the opportunity to very literally wave their dick in the air and claim that it is safer than a Volvo.

Here's an idea - NPR and the crew at Johns Hopkins University can place the topic in proper context, do things like mention HPV vaccines

The organizations might also feel the need to mention that Europe exists and is not currently falling into the ocean due to the weight of all that extra foreskin.

Meanwhile, parents can own their decision acting under the assumption that it is a completely unnecessary procedure. If they can't live with the possibility that the procedure is not glued to rates of infection, then they're playing with fire.


A good default is to leave some skin in the game.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Google it, PZ

PZ Myers has a particular posting style.

There's the type of post where he hates by proxy.

For example, one of his latest posts is titled "Who the hell is @Becky_Garrison?"

The post quickly links to his fellow FreeThoughtBlogger, Stephanie Zvan, who has documented practically everything Becky has said on Storify. Storify is now a tool for women's rights now that the Atheism+ crowd has figured out what it's used for instead of merely yelling an screaming about how @ElevatorGATE used it.

Interestingly enough in the hands of the Zvan, it does the same thing - meticulously documents the opinions of men and women she disagrees with.

In any case, PZ Myers is happy to hate Becky, and by the fifth sentence answers his own question:

"I have no idea who she is, nor do I care. But I did learn something from her ill-founded accusations and weird evasions, I think."

PZ then launches into a bizarre rant where he says that if he were added to the Atheism+ Twitter block bot "haters" list, he wouldn't mind and wouldn't say a word. He goes on to say that he has criticized other groups because he loves them so much.

So the block_bot is of zero concern to me. I could be put on it, and I’d shrug my shoulders and bravely soldier on. I don’t use it, so I’m doubly unconcerned.

Of course, PZ blogs about the most asinine stuff, why wouldn't he blog about his addition to the Block Bot if it were to happen?

Surely his addition would have been a huge deal. However what has changed is that David Silverman, President of American Atheists, was added to the A+ Block Bot list and it caused a huge kerfuffle.

If Silverman qualified for addition, surely Myers would. It's now clearly not if Myers will be added to the bot, but when.

To save some face, Myers is preemptively sharing the falsehood that he would not care if it were to happen. The theme is "I support you anyways!" as a message to his fans that they should not find themselves enraged by the ridiculous decisions made by Atheism+, the mind-virus meme created by this fellow bloggers.


The second type of post is the one where PZ performs a drive-by on the reputation by glibly name-dropping while making ridiculous comparisons.

For example, the new go-to name for racism PZ uses is Pat Condell.

In a blog post about something else entirely, PZ drops his name:

For some strange reason, this tirade by a guy laying out his criteria for a girlfriend reminds me of Pat Condell and his friends.

This is in a post labelled "How can you call him a racist? He says he isn’t!". The shot at Condell is in reference to PZ Myers' earlier post about Condell, in which he accuses Condell of using feminism as a cover for hatred of immigrants.

The argument made in the earlier post is that Condell puts too much blame on immigrants by citing statistics that cannot truly be compared. It's a valid point.

While it's true that Condell needs to be more careful about hyperbole and statistics, it's funny to hear who is definitively racist from a professor from a place by many accounts is one of the whitest states in America.

While Condell may be a showing a racist bias by misreading statistics and trying to blame the problems on immigrant muslims, perhaps PZ Myers has a cleverly hidden racist bias from his choice of location. PZ Myers covers this and boosts his own profile by labeling other old white men that would take his internet crown racists before they could even think about doing the same.

Further, PZ Myers' host desecration could be a simmering prejudice against Catholics that is merely a manifestation of his swelling hatred of the growing latino population in the United States.

Or we could just avoid dropping the "racist" label on people willy-nilly.

Moving on from racism and name dropping...

The final type of post that stands out as interesting at this time is the article in which PZ Myers has failed to any sort of fact-checking and basic research.

One example of this is the Hobby Lobby nonsense, in which PZ Myers hate-reblogs a post about a Hobby Lobby excluding Jewish customers: (titled "You People")

My values involve never setting foot inside a Hobby Lobby store.

The funny item in all this is PZ Myers wrote his post on October 1, 2013 while what could be said to be Hobby Lobby's  "anti-Semitic incident" was already over by many accounts the day before - September 30, 2013.

It's merely curious that an atheist would care that a store is purposefully excluding Hanukkah merchandise. However it is downright negligent to post outdated information based on reports that would so readily seem to be an isolated incident to be immediately dealt with by corporate public relations fixers.

As it turns out, the employee of some random Hobby Lobby store in New Jersey was not actually in charge of company policy in this regard. Fancy that.

But it gets worse. PZ Myers turns out to be even more naive than he appears.

In a post titled "Justine", PZ Myers attempts to cover the recent treatment of a woman's account of her sexual assault. The comments on the woman's blog were quite awful.

As PZ Myers puts it:

Do not read the comments on Justine’s post unless you really want to lose all faith in humanity. I repeat, do not read the comments. They are the true horror here.

This part is accurate. The comments were horrendous.

But then PZ Myers promptly screws up in his description of the comments:


Weirdly, Richard Stallman shows up to lecture everyone on how to properly refer to GNU/Linux.

What? 

Weirdly?

No shit! Richard Stallman showing up in a thread about sexual assault to explain "GNU/Linux" terminology would be weird, to say the least!

Let's look at what Stallman said, lifted from the thread:

RICHARD M STALLMAN says:
I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/LInux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX. 
Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called “Linux”, and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project. 
There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine’s resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called “Linux” distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 8:00 AM
Then later, "Stallman" adds:

R.STALLMAN says:
>Someone looks in my general direction
>OMG, halp!! I’m being raped!!!!1 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:03 AM
A concerned "Nat" responds:

NAT says:
Not that I’ve had much interest in what you had to say the past decade or so but I’ll be sure to no platform you should you appear at any conferences I happen to attend. After reading the comments on here I’m amazed Justine left them open but it does flush people out of the woodwork. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:14 AM

To which this "Stallman" adds:

R.STALLMAN says:
Shut up bitch, we as men must liberate all the pussy. You might think your body belongs to yourself, but it belongs to the community, to everybody, otherwise we don’t live in true freedom. Stop being a selfish cunt. 
OCTOBER 12, 2013 AT 9:47 AM

Back at Pharyngula (PZ Myer's blog) the a comment shares Nat's disgust:

Kevin (#4)
Shouldn’t he be called Richard Lippman-Stallman if he’s going to bang on like that?

Of course, the comments were not made by Richard Stallman.

This is so painfully obvious that even some Pharyngula commenters try to remedy the issue:

Vicar (#13)
The “GNU/Linux” reference shows that at least some of the people who are posting those comments think it’s all a game. (I am not excusing them, they are awful people who deserve all the excoriation they get and then some.) Stallman’s little mini-rant on how Linux should be called GNU/Linux because Linux distributions usually contain the GNU toolchain is something that people of that ilk toss in to show to amuse each other.
soegija nirwan (#77)
“Richard Stallman” posting that lecture on GNU/Linux was a popular meme a few years ago; it’s not really him.

It's straightforward for everyone with basic research skills to see through "Stallman"'s comments.

Searching the web for the first sentence in this "GNU/Linux" lecture:


I’d just like to interject for a moment. What you’re refering to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/LInux, or as I’ve recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux.

This bizarrely specific sentence yields tens of thousands of hits, with the paragraph being shared by people who are obviously not Richard Stallman.

Not only is it clear that Richard Stallman is not the one sharing this body of text, there is little evidence immediately available that he actually made such a statement to begin with. There happens to be a fairly elaborate Wikiquote entry on Richard Stallman, with a related discussion page mentioning that the text lacks a reliable source.

The troll in the comments on Justine's post cannot even be said to be putting effort in trying to adequately impersonate Richard Stallman. The comments made are a plain copy paste of a rather bizarre meme.

When the founder of the Free Software Foundation is telling one to "liberate the pussy" in any given comment thread, perhaps it is time to be skeptical about the identity of the authors participating in the discussion!

It is entirely possible that PZ Myers' reference to Stallman's comments was in jest, but that more than one social justice warrior fell for this ruse allows us to consider that PZ Myers actually thinks Richard Stallman could be asshole enough to share his opinions in this manner.


Putting the Stallman fiasco on pause and returning to PZ Myers' earlier rage about Becky Garrison for a moment. At the end of the post about Becky Garrison, PZ writes:

So please, stop trying to fit a complex set of diverse voices into your pathetic, simplistic narrative. And if you find something we say bruises your fragile ego, just stop reading us. We won’t mind. Actually, we’d prefer it if you freaking narcissists would take a hike and leave us alone.

This has to be the most nonsensical "poor me" statement PZ Myers has ever crafted.

What is Myers' ask of Becky Garrison, Pat Condell and Richard Stallman?

Essentially:
"Stop reading my posts and leave me alone"

It would seem that PZ Myers is allowed to write posts that routinely skirt the definition of outright character assassination and those involved can be expected to somehow forget all about it.

It speaks to the sorry state of American education that a professor that claims to be from the internet ultimately fails to lift a finger to do a trivial amount of research using the internet and routinely fails to realize that he's writing daily open letters to the very same people he claims to want nothing to do with.

It's a true statement to say that there is an old man in Minnesota that thinks a national chain of hobby stores is run by Nazis and that notable names in computer science like to show up in blog comments to correct women in their use of computer terminology before espousing their desire to "liberate" their genitalia.

Maybe the most unhinged person in Minnesota is not Michelle Bachmann...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Steph Guthrie trolls TED

Steph Guthrie gave a talk at TEDxToronto:





It was quite provocative. So it's probably trolling! Right?

It's a short video, but here's the rundown to prime discussion.

0:09 - "I have a folder on my desktop called 'death threats' - it's sad to say this can be par for the course when you're a woman with an opinion on the internet"

1:22 - "Tell me why I shouldn't take these kinds of things seriously"

Things that show up on screen:

  • A jibe about how much she might spend on hair products
  • Testimony that someone was called a bitch, ugly, and told to go make dinner
  • An insult along the lines of "you're so stupid you must be drunk"
  • An invitation to perform a blowjob
  • A statement about how the subject may be "bed hopping" (i.e. promiscuous) 
  • Three statements either threatening or indicating happiness about beatings or rapes
So a few things came out of the "death threats" folder. However a few came out of the general "jerks" folder.

2:18 - "There's something else that really bothers me about using the word "troll" to describe garden variety misogyny. It suggests that it's an internet problem rather than a society problem. [...] Why qualify it with a word like 'trolling' when really it's misogyny?"

2:47 - "I'll talk about some of the features of online communication that have allowed misogyny to flourish"

3:00ish - Talking about a game created where the player can beat up Anita Sarkeesian.

3:50 - "What is it about the internet that encouraged this guy to publish this game and put that out there?"

Reasons presented:
  • "Social distance" - creator didn't have to "look Anita in the face"
  • "Performance" - creator had an audience to share the game with
  • "No consequences" - doing things on the internet is not viewed as having consequences, law enforcement is behind, no perceived social consequences

6:00ish - Describes the process of tracking down the game creator after the game was deleted.

6:21 - Tweets game creator and advertises his existence - "do you punch women in the face IRL, or just on the internet? (This guy made the Anita Sarkeesian facepunch game). Others, RT."

6:41 - Tweets the local paper of the game creator : "Sault Ste Marie employers, if you get a resume from <creator>, he made a woman facepunching game"

7:10 - Screencaps of how she used ElevatorGATE's favorite tool, Storify, to bring justice down upon the game creator

7:40 - How internet can apparently cure misogyny:
  • "Performance" - People can participate in shaming creator as much like others participate in the game
  • "Visibility" - creator's "misogynist views" were on "permanent record" rather than "he said, she said"
  • "Virality" - popularity of the "anti-misogyny" campaign can be as viral as the "hate" campaign
From this point on, it's an endorsement of the usual "aggregators" of of daily bigotry, as it's said to be somehow useful for everyone to digest examples of people being awful to one another without context.

The finale:

"Strike 'Don't feed the trolls' from your lexicon if you're talking about a misogynist. We feed bigots by meeting their hatred with collective silence."

First things first.

A quick transition from death threats

It's interesting how the talk began speaking about a folder full of death threats and then launched into a very lengthy discussion about a woman-punching video game.

Interestingly enough, the game focused on a single online spat. Not a word was said about another woman-punching video game, Grand Theft Auto V, which seems to be one of the highest grossing video games to date.

Perhaps it's Sarkeesian's department to speak about GTA V, while it's Guthrie's to speak about Sarkeesian's opponents.

It is interesting to consider that both games will allow one to find entertainment to violence.

What sets the Sarkeesian-punching game apart?

Is it that the violence is against an identifiable person instead of a persona? Is it that the violence depicted is not fictional enough to be on HBO? Is it perhaps too interactive?

Whatever the differences, we've lost the connection to this folder of threats. Guthrie has muddied the waters enough to convince the audience that they are related entities in what could be said to be a war on feminism, however no effort is made to connect the dots in a convincing manner.

The reference to death threats set the tone, and then the audience is quickly led into judgment of the punch-Sarkeesian developer after their pitchforks were sharpened and the torches were well lit.




Is trolling misogyny?

When someone says the c-word or tells a woman to "get back in the kitchen" - is it misogyny?

It is definitely misogynist weaponry. But it doesn't mean that the heart of the feedback is part of a misogynist campaign.

Trolls can send racist, sexist, homophobic, fat-shaming messages. But this does not mean that trolling is any of those things.

For example, if one were to find someone online sending messages calling Paula Deen a "big fat nasty c-word", the conclusion one really cannot make is that the participants in this trolling are effectively fat-shaming misogynists. Such an answer makes a mockery of the entire situation.

When the context of debate is a particular "feminist" group's activism, then perhaps it's much simpler to present trolling as misogyny. As whatever negative things happen to a "feminist" group will be defined after the fact as misogyny by definition.

Luckily the internet is much larger than a flame war with "feminist" groups.

Accepting that fact, calling trolling misogyny is simply inaccurate. Even when sexist language is used.




Is the internet allowing people to unleash their inner misogynist?

What an evil place! It seems the internet is a place unencumbered by rules, where people can abuse others at will and get away with it. We'd all get along if not for the misogynists... right?

Oddly enough, Guthrie begins her talk saying that trolling is a form of "garden variety misogyny", then continues to talk about what makes the internet a special case and how people behave differently in real life (IRL).

The internet is different.

It is true that people can be, in some sense, more misogynist. More bigoted. More awful to one another.

However it is also true that people can be more obtuse. More irrational. More dismissive. More vengeful.

One way to be dismissive and vengeful is to create a game where the player can assault an effigy of the person you dislike.

Another way to be dismissive and vengeful is to insert yourself into a pissing contest about video games, sleuth out details about a perceived enemy and attempt to end their career.

Maybe the actions are not equivalent, but they speak to the internet's capability to amplify everything.

Before the internet, one could give a speech to an audience in Toronto and in all likelihood begin and end in Toronto. The audience in the room might be the only participants and the only potential critics.

Now, as Guthrie points out, the internet allows the contents of the speech to be put on a "permanent record". The video would act as a sort of global flypaper for people that vehemently disagree. Heated debates that had little opportunity to materialize live in the room after the speech are almost guaranteed to happen online as every sentence is pondered.

For the first time, people are presented with an endless rain of "feminist" theories readily indexed for easy consumption. Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook present the concepts not in 100 page research papers but as bite-size focused critiques of the behavior of specific people. Things get about as deep as the rage-fest that was donglegate.

While we may be learning the true opinions of the so-called misogynists, we are also learning the true opinions of the self-appointed speakers for all women everywhere.

And everyone seems to be quite awful to one another. The secular movement discovered this quite some time ago, and attempted to do something about it - the leaders of various groups suggested choosing different methods of communication.

Internet "feminists" essentially told these leaders of several large non-profit organizations to STFU. (They love f-bombs)

That'll help matters.



Everyday sexism

But to put in concrete terms of "every day" sexism that "feminists" adore talking about, the situation simplifies.

Women will receive sexist messages online. In their "real life" daily lives, as Guthrie mentions several times, women will be also hear sexist insults and slurs. Maybe the person using these slurs are their brother, sister, spouse or boss.

Can they be deemed misogynists for life? It does not happen. It would be a ridiculous result.

But it's what Guthrie is essentially advocating for online. It's just another variation of the positioning one's own political group against the evildoers that lack a conscience.

Where does all this leave us with a solution to end trolling?

It isn't absolutely clear.

What is clear - if we rely on Guthrie, Watson, Criado-Perez, or McCreight to teach the world what conflict resolution looks like, we're in deep trouble.

It would not be if World War III will happen, but simply when.